Sources and Methods

So, by now you’ve likely heard that Nidal Malik Hasan, the ‘Fort Hood Shooter’, had been in email contact with an infamous radical cleric in Jordan some months ago.

By now, you’ve probably heard that the government was aware of these emails – of the contents of these emails, had reviewed them, and found them to not be of particular concern.

By now, you’ve probably heard a fairly decent summary of what was discussed in those emails.

A couple questions, in my opinion, remain markedly unanswered.

First of all, who was doing the interception? Who were they monitoring – were they monitoring Hassan’s email, or the cleric’s? Both? What tool or tools did they use? Did they need a warrant to do so? Did they have one?

I mean, when i saw the first coverage of this development on the national news, my first thought was that they might as well have just sent the dude in Jordan a lolcat message saying “Ohai, were in ur komputer, readin ur emails – luv, teh National Security Agency”.

My second thought was “why even leak this to the public in the first place?”

It’s politics. It’s gotta be. Someone sure appears to be trying to make the intelligence community – and by proxy the Obama administration – look like fools, for no particularly compelling reason. “Aaaah, it’s 9/11 all over again – the warning signs were there, but the government did nothing, aaaaah!” Oh noes, the sky is falling, oh noes. Has we learn’d nothings since teh 9/11es?

Worse yet, in my mind, is that whoever decided to release this useless, albeit juicy, tidbit of gossip to the media sans context is apparently unconcerned about – potentially – compromising one or more intelligence sources and methods.

I mean, the narrative could quite easily have been “a preliminary government examination of Hasan’s personal computer revealed that the alleged gunman had been in email contact with a well-known al-Qaeda spokesperson prior to the shooting”, and that could have protected the hypothetical (and now compromised) sources/methods that were actually used to read Hasan’s mail.

Every indication so far is that Hasan acted alone. Lone actors – “lone wolves” – are pretty much impossible to detect, as history has shown. That’s an unavoidable fact of life, and nobody needs apologize for it. There need not have been “warning signs” that went unnoticed. There need not have been “intelligence failures”, and I really don’t think there were, based on what’s come out in the media so far.

What good does the leaks about his email correspondence serve? What, he emailed an al-Qaeda associate? He shot up a bunch of soldiers, for crying out loud – does anyone honestly need to try and cast him in a further negative light? No. All it does is needlessly serve some partisan political agenda. And, you know, potentially compromise some intelligence sources and methods.

Don’t forget that part, okay? Because someone is trying really hard to make you believe that Nidal Hasan is a radical terrorist – which is probably true… and apparently doesn’t want you to look too hard at where the evidence came from or how it was acquired. Should that raise your hackles? Well, it does for me…

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